ADHD in the Workplace:
Creating a Supportive Workplace

Adults diagnosed with ADHD are at a disadvantage in the workplace. According to the NIMH, 4.4% of adults have ADHD. Of this group, just under 20% are officially diagnosed, and even less are receiving the help they need through medication and therapy.

Being an illness commonly associated with children, advocacy groups have pushed hard for public recognition that ADHD negatively affects millions of adults in the US. This post will explore Adult ADHD and provide some actionable recommendations for HR departments to bring understanding, care, and support to their employees.

But first:

What Does Adult ADHD Look Like?

ADHD’s effects can be classified into three general categories of symptoms. People with ADHD describe their symptoms as:

  • Behavioral
  • Cognitive
  • Mood-based

This disorder affects people differently, and they may exhibit symptoms in all three categories.

Behavioral symptoms include hyperactivity, fidgeting, anger issues, and impulsiveness. People with ADHD may be highly disorganized and distracted.

Cognitive symptoms include issues with memory and concentration. Usually, people experience forgetfulness, inattentiveness, and report brain fog.

People with ADHD are prone to anxiety, depression, and intense mood swings.

ADHD Disguised as Other Mental Health Disorders

An ADHD diagnosis can be hard to pin down for someone experiencing symptoms. This is because mental health misdiagnoses are common. ADHD shares symptoms with more common mental health disorders like generalized depression or anxiety disorder. If a person is misdiagnosed, the treatment they receive may appear to be ineffective because it treats the wrong illness.

Common Misdiagnosis:

For example, a person may feel tired and distracted at work, leading to poor performance. As a result, their self-esteem suffers, and they grow depressed, which is a symptom of ADHD but could easily be misconstrued as a symptom of generalized depression.

Because adult ADHD is underreported and generally misrepresented, this person receives a misdiagnosis of generalized depressive disorder. They receive treatment, but it is designed to treat a disorder they do not have, so their symptoms continue.

In this example, the employee’s poor performance is not the result of their depression. In this case, both their inability to focus at work and their depression are symptoms of adult ADHD.

Adult ADHD Treatments

The usual treatment for ADHD is a combination of medication and therapy. Once a professional issues a proper diagnosis, the person can start receiving treatment that helps improve their symptoms.

A person with ADHD may be prescribed stimulants and antidepressants to help them cope with symptoms. The stimulants help correct the cognitive and behavioral symptoms, helping people with ADHD focus and stay on task. The antidepressants help replenish the brain’s supply of essential neurotransmitters, treating some mood-based symptoms.

Usually, a person with ADHD will receive CBT or cognitive-behavioral therapy. CBT therapy teaches skills on changing thought patterns and maintaining healthy thoughts. This helps patients recognize how their thoughts influence their behaviors, which then re-enforce their thoughts.

How Can HR Departments Support Their Employees Who Have ADHD?

The first piece of advice is to be compassionate and consider how ADHD affects the whole person. An employee’s work ethic and productivity are usually not the only attributes that suffer as a result of ADHD. This disorder affects the whole person. People with ADHD often have trouble with their social lives and at home – in addition to struggling at work.

So, what’s the fix?

Make An Employee’s Access to Mental Health Support Clear and Accessible

  • HR departments should engender a work culture that is supportive and nurturing. Some ways to achieve this:
  • Make your company’s mental health policies well known
  • Work on dismissing any stigmas associated with talking about or seeking mental health treatments
  • Offer regular free mental health screening and encourage employee participation
  • Share information and resources to help employees seek medical care, ADHD therapy, and ADHD medication online
  • Create a workplace culture that allows for fidget toys and other coping tools
  • Give away fidget toys to promote adult ADHD awareness

Support Your Employees Through Education and Compassion

A truly effective workplace creates a work environment where employees want to thrive. Adult ADHD often flies under the radar and leaves undiagnosed adults feeling less valuable and unworthy of success. By uplifting employees and getting them the support they need, offices are investing in the growth and success of their employees.

Everyone has trouble focusing now and again, but that symptom is chronic for some employees. Through education and compassion, you can create a work environment that is sensitive to and supportive of your employees with adult ADHD.

Roni Davis is a writer, blogger, and legal assistant operating out of the greater Philadelphia area.